Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

More arrests made over murder of two Scandinavian women in Morocco

Four main suspects and 15 others detained after double murder of European tourists

Moroccans paid tribute to murder victims Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland in the capital Rabat. AFP
Moroccans paid tribute to murder victims Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland in the capital Rabat. AFP

Nineteen people have been arrested after the murder of two Scandinavian women last week in Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

They include the four main suspects in the crime and 15 other people accused of having connections to the alleged killers, a security source told Reuters, without giving further details.

Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway were found dead early on December 17 near the village of Imlil on a route to Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak and a popular hiking and trekking destination.

"The two victims were stabbed, had their throats slit and were then beheaded," said Abdelhak Khiam, head of Morocco's central office for judicial investigation.

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The four main suspects, aged between 25 and 30 years, pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video made three days before the bodies were found, but without agreeing this in advance with any foreign group, security force spokesman Boubker Sabik said on Sunday.

He described the four men as "lone wolves," adding that "the crime was not coordinated with ISIS".

According to Mr Khiam, "the emir of the group" was Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor living on the outskirts of Marrakesh. He had "formed a kind of cell that discussed how to carry out a terrorist act inside the kingdom."

The alleged killers had "agreed under the influence of their emir to carry out a terrorist act... targeting the security services or foreign tourists," Mr Khiam told AFP.

Two days before the murders, they allegedly went to the Imlil region "because it is frequented by foreigners" and "targeted the two tourists in a deserted area", he added.

Electronic devices, an unregistered hunting rifle, knives and materials that could be used for bomb making were found during raids.

Compared with other countries in North Africa, Morocco has been largely insulated from militant attacks. The most recent took place in April 2011, when 17 people were killed in the bombing of a restaurant in Marrakesh.

An attack in the North African state's financial capital Casablanca killed 33 people in 2003.

Since 2002, Morocco has dismantled 185 terror cells and taken measures to rehabilitate those arrested, said Mr Khiam. In the past two years, Morocco claims to have thwarted 20 militant cells planning attacks in the country.

A rise in terrorist attacks could be devastating for Morocco's economy, which depends on tourism as the kingdom's second-largest employer, after agriculture. The sector accounts for 10 per cent of national income and is one of the country's main sources of foreign currency.

Updated: December 25, 2018 04:19 PM

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